In an underground school rife with duels and deadly classes, Jane hides in the shadows to stay alive. She is the invisible assassin. But as she prepares to graduate from Mortis and take her place in the world as a fully-trained killer, Jane stumbles over shadowy secrets revealing dark truths that affect more than her world. Will she embrace the darkness, or betray the school that raised her—and the boy she loves? Once Jane sets herself against her school, there is no turning back because in Mortis, failure always means death.
Hannah Cobb lives in Maryland, where she maintains a cover identity as a librarian by day and moonlights as a writer. She finished her first novel at the age of twelve, though sadly this charming tale of princesses, warrior maidens, and a middle school attempt at witty dialogue will never see the light of day. Since then Hannah acquired degrees in both English and Library Science, which involved reading a great many examples of genuinely good writing, and inspired her to pursue a writing career as an adult. When she isn’t writing, Hannah enjoys designing elaborate period costumes and collecting swords.
Twilight. Harry Potter. Newer sensations like Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. Teen fantasy has grown so popular that it requires a multitude of subgenres—we classify Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices series as steampunk, and Holly Black’s dark Curseworkers trilogy as urban fantasy. Pick any two books off the YA fantasy shelf in your favorite bookstore, and I guarantee you’ll flip through two entirely different worlds. But this isn’t a post about what defines teen fantasy; it’s a reminder of the importance of fantasy, especially for teen readers.
Stories are windows into other worlds and other souls. They are also mirrors—they can show us both our best and worst selves. Today’s teens look at the world around them and see war, natural disasters, and terrorism reported in the news. If they haven’t experienced any of these hardships themselves, they turn to fantasy for windows into a world where this darkness can make sense, where evil is explained or defeated. And there are plenty of teens looking for themselves in these stories, too, searching out mirrors of their better selves—better selves who overcome the hardship and defeat the villain, who are brave enough to speak up against evil or set off on a quest to save someone else with sacrificial bravery.
In a way teen fantasy is a mirror of the darkness in the real world; but it also, almost universally, offers a spark of hope in the midst of that darkness. Harry defeats Voldemort in the end (hopefully that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone). He faces seven thick books of struggle before that key moment—fighting himself, dark wizards, even his friends, but in the end Voldemort is destroyed, and the wizarding world is safe. Madeline L’lengle said it best in her old-but-amazing teen novel, A Ring of Endless Light: “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” So don’t let readers of other genres demote teen fantasy to mere “escapism.” All the magic and mayhem in the latest bestselling YA fantasy will be a window or a mirror to many of the teens who pick it up. And no matter your age, it never hurts to read a reminder that the spark of hope is out there—whether it is lit by an orphan in a galaxy far, far away, or by the Chosen One in wire-rimmed glasses and long black robes.
Felix stopped beside the roped-in dueling ring, waiting for Willy to thread her way down the stands.
She elbowed through the last of the crowd and emerged at his side, grinning. “I can’t wait to see his face when you win.”
Anyone else would have counseled caution. Felix found himself answering her grin. He tossed Willy his coat and rolled up his shirtsleeves. “It’s not his face I care about.”
“She’s here,” Willy said, answering the question he hadn’t asked.
His eyes rose to the stands again, and found Jane at once. He could see her fury in the tilt of her chin, in the inscrutable line of her mouth. She hadn’t spoken to him since the challenge.
Willy elbowed him. “Focus, Felix. She’ll get over it.”
“Is that supposed to comfort me while I face possible death?”
“If you die defending her, she’ll die of a broken heart a few days later. Just like in the ballads.”
Felix pulled his attention back to the ring. “You haven’t quite mastered the solemn tone of a dueling second, Will.”
“Yeah, well, I’m more used to being in the ring myself.” Willy straightened up, her hand settling on her own student sword. “Here he comes.”
Kade paused in the doorway, raking the room with a glance that laid ownership to everyone in the stands. He swaggered his way to the ring.
The school rioted in response, half the crowd cheering for Felix, the other half chanting Kade’s name, a rhythmic battle of sound. Felix ignored the noise. Kade preened in it, bowing and then bowing again, a sharp nod that set the bells in his hair jingling.
Then Kade deliberately swept his gaze over the audience. His stare fastened on Jane.
Felix saw Jane’s smile vanish, her expression brittle. His fingers tightened around his sword hilt. “Kade, this isn’t a player’s stage. Are you here to fight or to amuse the crowd?”
Before Kade could answer the hall fell silent, a stillness enforced by the masters’ presence in the doorway. Black robes brushed the floor as they strode to their places around the ring, one master for each of the twelve spikes holding the rope boundary.
Felix entered the dueling circle. He should have been afraid His gaze turned to Kade’s sword with its sixteen gold rings around the hilt, marking the older boy as a member of the senior class.
The sword in his own hand bore only fourteen gold rings.
He performed the requisite bow to his opponent.
“Begin,” one of the masters said.
Kade’s sword snapped forward. Felix felt the grind of steel against steel through his wrist and up his arm. His feet slid across the floor, sword flashing from strike to block to lunge without conscious thought.
The noise outside the ring hammered at him: Willy bellowing, “Hit him, Felix!” from the edge of the ring, catcalls when Kade stumbled, moans when the older student recovered and attacked again. The razor edge of Kade’s sword grazed Felix’s shoulder.
Kade drew back, smirking. “Want to give up, boy?”
Felix transferred his sword to his left hand and Kade bore down on him, forcing both their blades sideways. Felix slammed himself into his opponent. For a moment they strained against each other, feet planted on the floor in stubborn refusal to give way.
Kade’s hand twitched to the right and Felix wrenched free, hooking a foot around Kade’s leg and jerking the older boy off his feet.
The cheering from the stands vanished in a collective indrawn breath.
Felix stood over Kade and let his eyes rise to the stands, just for a moment.
Jane’s expression hadn’t changed, but this time her anger swept through him like a sturdy kind of warmth. She nodded to him, just once.
Willy flung herself into the ring, howling with delight, and the hall shook with the cheering, the stands rattling, the vaulted ceiling vibrating above them.
Felix remembered to breathe. The lightning-sharp anger of the fight sizzled inside him. It took an effort to hold his sword steady.
He could kill Kade. He’d won the duel.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Kade hissed, arrogant even in defeat.
He wanted Kade dead, but not yet. Not like this.
Not with Jane watching.
He leaned down so only Kade would hear. “Next time you think of coming near her, remember this. Remember what it feels like to greet death.”
The tip of his blade flicked once, leaving a triangle of blood at the base of Kade’s throat.
Felix’s eyes bored into Kade’s. “Remember that Jane is mine.”
He sheathed his sword, turned on his heel, and left the ring.